Sheffield hospital bosses 'truly sorry' over death of 'exceptional' young woman

Hospital bosses in Sheffield have said they are ‘truly sorry’ for failings which contributed to the death of an ‘exceptional’ young woman.

By Robert Cumber
Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 10:13 am

Laura Booth, a 21-year-old who had a number of different life-limiting complications, including learning disabilities, died in 2016 after being admitted to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital for a routine eye operation.

A coroner concluded this week that neglect had contributed to her death and the decision by doctors not to adequately manage Laura’s nutrition was a ‘gross failure of her care’.

Kirsten Major, Chief Executive, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “Laura was an exceptional individual who has left a deep impression on all who met her. She was gravely ill with sepsis and this was the cause of her death, but we acknowledge that the decisions on the best method of feeding her were a contributory factor to the timing of her death.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Laura Booth, 21, died after being admitted to hospital for a routine eye operation, and a coroner concluded that neglect had contributed to her death (pic: Family handout/PA Wire)

"Laura was not starved during her stay and our staff worked hard to try and do what they thought was the right thing. However, our processes at the time were not robust enough which meant that there was not clear decision making and consequently, Laura and her family were let down.

“We regret what happened and we have already overhauled our nutrition service and processes so there is now a clear lead decision maker to review and expedite actions for patients with complex nutritional needs.

"We are truly sorry for what happened, and we will be responding to all of the coroner’s recommendations to prevent this situation happening again.”

Laura’s parents, Patricia and Ken Booth, described her as their ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and said the ‘sun went out of our lives’ when she died.

They told the inquest doctors had ignored their daughter and excluded them from decision-making after Laura was admitted to hospital in September 2016.

They said: “We feel that Laura starved to death and the staff did not listen to us. We also feel like no-one was co-ordinating Laura's care or making decisions."

They added: “This has to stop. It's not right that learning disabled people die decades prematurely.”

At Sheffield Coroner’s Court yesterday, Monday, April 26, assistant coroner Abigail Combes concluded that the hospital had acted ‘unlawfully’ in the decisions it made about Ms Booth's feeding, and said she remained ‘gravely concerned’ about senior doctors' understanding of the Mental Capacity Act.

She said she would be writing to the chief coroner to urge better training for coroners on the Mental Capacity Act and Liberty Protection Safeguards.

Dan Scorer, head of policy and public affairs at the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “It is appalling in this day and age that anyone should die of causes including malnutrition.

“That this took place while Laura was in hospital under the care of medical staff is profoundly shocking.

“Laura's death is further evidence of institutional discrimination against people with a learning disability within the NHS."

Mr Scorer said: “As the coroner stated, it is clear there needs to be a much better understanding of the Mental Capacity Act amongst all healthcare professionals.

“If the right training is provided and clinicians adhere to the law, lives will be saved.”